There was an essay in the New York Times recently arguing that the so-called “golden age of Television” had ended with the series finale of Lost. The fundamental argument is that television was following in the Lost model of drawing in viewers with exciting mysteries that the writers know they’ll never be able to resolve, and then leaving everyone in the lurch, making for an overall negative viewing experience. The writer compares this to the advent of the Hollywood blockbuster structure, which started with “good” movies that were widely popular because of their quality, and led to Hollywood stripping them of their quality in an attempt to crassly recreate the magic, failing miserably but also eliminating the market for smaller or more imaginative films. These historical analyses seem like valid observations of some patterns that do exist, but let’s also be realistic: Lost ended LAST YEAR, and there’s been a TON of GREAT TELEVISION since then. It hardly seems to have signaled some shifting paradigm. Just because that show ended disappointingly and so did the first season of The Killing it hardly seems a justification for complaining that the medium has failed us. TV is great! We all watch it so much and we love it. So shut up, New York Times Nerds! (Gooooood counterpoint! Very logical. Debate Team Champs 2011.) After the jump our favorite TV shows of the year!
At this point it seems unnecessary to add anything to the conversation about why Breaking Bad was one of — if not THE — best series of 2011. Everyone’s talking about it. Everyone knows. Plus, it’s hard to talk without sounding super lame. Like, watch. Ok. Watching the expertly paced descent of Walter White has been — UGH, already sounding super lame; we don’t even want to continue with that sentence. Suffice to say, watching basically EVERYONE on that show’s descent into “bad”ness has been incredibly entertaining and, more importantly, incredibly believable. In the most recent season specifically, with so much emphasis put on Gus Fring’s past and Hank’s recovery, so much detail is put into making each character seem like a real, fully-formed human that every f’d up plot development really HITS. You know? They all really hit ya. And they all really matter. And they’re all really great. And maybe you should watch this show? Have you ever seen in? It’s about a chemistry teacher who has cancer and makes meth to make money for his family but then he recovered and now it’s like, what’s he gonna do? Ever heard of it? BITCH?
A funny thing about Parenthood is that no one ever talks about how they watch it. But if you’re at the right kind of party and you’re talking to the right kind of person and you bring up how you’re really into Parenthood, they’ll often react VERY excitedly, explaining to you meekly (even though you’ve already expressed your own love for the series, and it’s like, you know, COME ON) how they also love it, for this and that reason. So, WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH THAT? Lots of us are watching Parenthood! And we all love it, because it’s great! Why can’t we all just talk about it?! The truth is (THE TRUTH!) that Parenthood is a beautiful, soft, relatable, charming, smart, funny, clever series about a family working out its myriad problems and celebrating its myriad triumphs. It’s not for everyone, sure. But if you like relating emotionally to characters who have been in similar situations to you, or, at the very least, situations you can easily imagine, then…Parenthood…is…good. To watch. On TV. And you cry a lot when you watch it? Ugh. Just watch it! It’s so good!
It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia
The characters on It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia are some of the worst humans on TV. My goodness. And 2011’s season displayed some of their worst schemes– THE DEAD “BABY”? — yet, and it has been so good. The last one or two seasons were not that great to be honest, if we’re all trying to be honest with each other since it’s just about to be a new year. They seemed kind of tired and like the cast were uninspired and bored with their roles, but this season, holy moly. Whether it be due to the creation of Fat Mac or something else, this season has been one of the most inspired and creative and terrible and perfect to date. And how the entire Fat Mac premise was explained in one episode, and it was the dumbest explanation? And the rest of the characters didn’t even care? That’s so funny! That’s the best! It’s Always Sunny was one of the most consistently L-O-L funny shows this year, and that is really all that matters when you’re talking about a show like It’s Always Sunny. The L-O-Ls.
Gossip Girl is a garbage TV show. Videogum stopped talking about it last season or the season before or, like, HOWEVER long ago it was, it seems like forever, and that’s fine. It’s garbage. But, you know, since Videogum has stopped talking about it they’ve gotten rid of BOTH Taylor Momsen AND Vanessa? The two worst characters? They’re gone now! And, holy moly, this season has been terrific. Dan wrote a book and it’s already been a NYT best seller with a movie deal and Aaron Sorkin interested in adapting the script, but then Serena screwed that up somehow and now it’s not going to be a movie, and now the book’s already basically forgotten and Dan’s already depressed about being a hack writer? At 20 years old or whatever? And, like, Blair is PREGNANT and going to be a princess, except her Prince unveiled everyone’s tips to Gossip Girl in order to show Blair how all her friends were actually against her, but Blair found out and she was mad at him, and now he’s a bad guy, and Chuck has been trying to be a good guy this whole time, and now Blair got in a car accident and she’s probably going to lose the baby which is the only thing left tying her to the prince so now she’ll be able to be with Chuck?! Also, stuff with other characters?! GUYS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Parks and Recreation
One way in which Parks and Recreation succeeds where a show like Community (a show though we didn’t pick for a best of 2011, though it came close, believe me, very close) fails, is that its characters can deliver a good episode even when they’re faced without a very good episode to deliver. Each is funny and quirky and flawed in a way that actually makes you care about them, rather than just about how clever or discerning they can be, and that’s usually enough to float you through situations that may not otherwise be the best or most entertaining. Like friends whose jokes you appreciate even when they aren’t very funny at all, because also you’re absorbing their character development? Whatever, anyway, last season was great. This season was better. We look forward to next season! Yay!
Basically Everything on the BBC Right Now
We have no idea when things actually air in England or even when they air here, so maybe our timelines are inaccurate, but as far as we are concerned, 2011 was the year of the BBC. Holy moly! Between Downton Abbey, Luther, the Sherlock reboot, The Shadow Line, and The Hour you couldn’t throw a rock at the BBC without hitting an amazing show. Some people have complained that the second season of Downton Abbey is too soap-opera-y, but we’ve seen a few of the new episodes and we’re not buying it. That show is great. And don’t even get us started on Luther holy shit. The second season of Sherlock starts next year and we can’t wait. The Shadow Line is probably finished, but that just means you have plenty of time to catch up on it, which you really should. The UK’s The Wire is a good description of what that show is, and the original The Wire is the best, so. And I’m pretty sure The Hour has been picked up for a second season, which is good, even if that show is kind of our least favorite out of the bunch that show is still better than almost anything else on TV right now, which shows you just how strong the BBC is these days. So so so so strong.
Aside from some quicklinks here and there and some pre-season 2 excitement, we haven’t actually talked about Portlandia very much on this site, mostly because it doesn’t fit into our Thursday Comedy Show Discussion Thread, and because in general it is very hard to find anything to actually SAY about very funny shows (or videos for that matter) besides “this is very funny and we enjoy it and you might enjoy it so let’s enjoy it.” That gets tiresome after awhile. But it needs to be said that not only is Fred Armisen’s and Carrie Brownstein’s IFC sketch show impossibly funny and enjoyable and fun and cutting and correct and just all around great, it’s also important. You know how people talk about Mr. Show now even though a lot of people didn’t actually watch Mr. Show when it was on? (They say they did, but they are liars. Who even knew what HBO was until the Sopranos? That’s an obvious exaggeration, but seriously, when it comes to Mr. Show people LIE THROUGH THEIR TEETH about where they were when. Not sure why. Do people get laid that way?) But the way people talk about Mr. Show now is the way people will talk about Portlandia when it has been canceled and relegated to cult status. This is the show that is currently burrowing its way into so many high-school aged comedy nerds brains and informing what they’re going to do 10 years from now. We’re calling it.
Season 1 of Justified was great, and this year’s second season was even better. You know when you go to a big Hollywood movie and within the first 10 minutes you just know that they made the right decisions and you’re going to really enjoy yourself for the next two hours because this thing is hitting all the right buttons? That’s what Justified is like. It just hits all the right buttons and it doesn’t stop hitting them. It’s got cowboys and shoot outs and menacing white trash and sassy banter and southern drawls and children in peril and Daniel Farraday from Lost and everything. It’s got everything. We cannot stress enough how much we enjoy this show. Usually, we are actually pretty content with the length of an average television season and are happy to have delayed gratification from one season to the next, but Justified is a show that should be on every single week without ever taking a hiatus and we dream of a world in which that’s true.
Friday Night Lights
In theory, for people who have Direct TV, whatever that is, I think Friday Night Lights might have ended in 2010. But for human beings living in the REAL WORLD, the final season aired on NBC this past spring (and, of course, this was the year when Kyle Chandler and Jason Katims won the Emmys for once in their goddamned lives). We’ve written about this show already this year, but it bears repeating that this was one of the most beautifully acted, gorgeously filmed, and engrossing low-key human dramas in awhile. (See also: Jason Katims’s other show, Parenthood.) Season 2 aside, this show was always a winner, and the fact that they managed to completely turn over half of the cast midway through the series and still hold your attention (and your HEARTSTRINGS) speaks volumes to the creative talent behind this thing. One for the ages. You will be missed, boys. (And Mrs. Coach.)
How To Make It In America
Look, we’re not idiots. We know that How To Make It In America is not a good show. It is a terrible show. It is easily one of the worst shows ever made. (It is also a canceled show.) And we haven’t even seen the first season yet. (We’re saving it for our honeymooooooon!) But the second season was genuinely incredible. As bad as it was, or because of that, it was impossible to turn away, and we had more fun trying to explain plotlines of How to Make It in America to our friends than we did talking about almost anything else. “See, Lulu invited Ben and Cam to this brunch hosted by a lady who knows a buyer at Barney’s, but then Lulu couldn’t make it, so Ben and Cam have to decide whether or not to crash the brunch.” That is a real episode! That’s the whole dramatic arc! “Rachel got a job at Biscuit magazine but they’re not letting her do what she wants, but she’s just going to write the article about the t-shirt designer in Bushwick who makes his own kamboucha and we’ll see if they run it next week.” What an incredibly ridiculous show about nothing. And not about nothing in the way that, say, Entourage was about nothing, because at least Entourage was about celebrities, which are real. New York t-shirt designers whose real dream is to make jeans? Get out of here. Wait, no, we didn’t mean it, GET BACK HERE! WE LOVE YOUUUUU!